Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana may have gone overboard when he described the 100,000 or so Chinese nationals working in offshore gaming operations here as potential spies for Beijing.
The basis for the secretary’s concern is that many of the 56 or so official Philippine offshore gaming operations are located near strategic defense installations.
Several are in Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City and Eastwood, which are less than a 20-minute drive from the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo and Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame.
Other POGO hubs are located in Resorts World in Pasay City near the Air Force and Army headquarters, and on Macapagal Avenue near the Navy headquarters in Roxas Boulevard.
A POGO hub is also being eyed at a 36-hectare former resort in Kawit, Cavite just a few kilometers from the Air Force’s 15th Strike Wing and the Heracleo Alano naval base in Sangley Point.
But these details are a red herring in Lorenzana’s frankly alarmist warning. In an age where digital surveillance and drones are the norm, it really doesn’t matter where the potential spies are located. Does the good secretary suggest that hordes of Chinese POGO workers will one day stream out of their offices and try to surreptitiously infiltrate our military and police bases?
The suggestion is ludicrous—almost but not quite as silly as the tit-for-tat response from the Chinese ambassador, who said Filipino workers in China could also be regarded as potential spies.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., the agency that licenses POGOs, wants to move them and their Chinese workers to “self-contained communities” far away from the military bases, much like the Spaniards did when they were forced to settle in a ghetto called the Parian, just within range of the cannons of Intramuros.
Against the backdrop of Chinese objections that the plan might violate their citizens’ rights, Pagcor insists that the move would be done to protect the Chinese, offering them residential spaces with their own food establishments, groceries or convenience stores, wellness and recreational facilities, service shops and other amenities which may be needed by foreign workers.
All this is utter nonsense and it is remarkable that so much time—and even a Senate investigation—have been wasted on the subject.
If the Chinese workers indeed constitute a threat to national security, creating new Chinatowns will do nothing to stop them. As President Rodrigo Duterte has observed, spies don’t need to be physically near their intelligence targets.
If there is a social cost to having more than 100,000 new foreign workers who do not always play nice with the local population, then by all means, let us have that conversation.
Pagcor reports that POGOs posted revenues of P657 million in 2016, P3.924 billion in 2017, P7.365 billion in 2018 and are well on the way to hitting P8 billion this year. Still, the wisdom of establishing an industry that excludes Filipino workers and customers certainly deserves more debate.
But the discussions should focus on real issues, not imagined spies, wild accusations, and segregation by race. That is a downhill path that helps no one.